If life had a bumper sticker it might read:
Hurry up and wait.
When you look around, everyone is busy rushing to the next thing. Time is a precious commodity so we hurry hurry hurry. Because we are so busy, we don’t feel that we have the luxury of waiting around. In our instant gratification world, we want what we want right now. And when we don’t get it, we become impatient.
Think about the last time you stood in a line. Or you were stuck in traffic. Or your kids were being pokey. Or your partner wasn’t on the same page as you. You probably started to feel irritated or frustrated or maybe even angry. You might have muttered, “I don’t have time for this.”
I’m not a big fan of waiting – at least not for the most important things in life. But being patient is a different thing. Patience is a desirable quality that allows us to handle a situation while remaining calm. Patience allows us to persevere when things take longer than we would like or when they are challenging, without succumbing to complaining or crankiness or negativity.
Patience is actually the antidote to those negative feelings. But like most things, if we want to be more patient we need to practise to get better at it.
Here are five ways to practise patience:
Impatience thrives in a busy environment. Take your sense of irritation as a sign to slow down. Pause and breathe. Re-focus on what is most important right now in the moment. It has nothing to do with tasks on your to-do list and everything to do with how you want to show up in the world.
Practise with others.
When other people’s actions are the source of your irritation, there is a great opportunity to practise being patient. Shift your focus away from yourself and onto the other person. Step into their shoes for a moment. What is happening for this person right now? We often make assumptions about other people’s behaviour without really knowing why they are behaving the way they are. Imagine the most compassionate or generous explanation for their behaviour and then let it go.
Practise with yourself.
Even when we are patient with others, we often have little for ourselves. Cut yourself some slack. You are an imperfect being – a work in progress. Give yourself room to learn, make mistakes, and grow.
Shift your thinking.
Problems and challenges exist in life. We become impatient when we want them to just go away. Shift your thinking from obstacles to opportunities. Each problem simply presents an opportunity to practise patience. The more you practise, the better you get.
Practise on the small stuff.
Choose something small that gets on your nerves and begin there. You don’t have to take on the most challenging situations first. By practising patience with small things, you build your skills and confidence. Then you can practise with something more demanding.
Here’s a great exercise that reminds us that things happen in their own time. Plant a seed and wait for it to grow. Notice if you become impatient with the progress of the plant. There’s no point in telling the plant to hurry up and grow faster. It will grow at its own speed, in its own time. Human beings do the same thing. Be patient with them.